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Alex West
Alex West

Alex West: Stevenage give Notts County vital reminder of how quickly football can change

“It’s crucial that we stay grounded, and remember that football can change ever so quickly, and live in hope, that when the road becomes bumpy, which it will, we remain strong, united and continue to pull in the same direction”, was a phrase I used in my most recent article.

Saturday proved to be a stern reminder that football can indeed change ever so quickly. Following a superb performance and result at Plymouth Argyle on Tuesday evening, Notts fans (me included) could be forgiven for predicting another battling victory on Saturday. Oh how we were wrong.

Travelling down the M1 at 10.30am with a nice cold bottle of Peroni is how my away days normally begin and Saturday was no different. There was however one major difference in the pre-match conversation I held with my companions whilst on the road – there was a sense of optimism, a sense of excitement and a sense of real belief that we would carry on our turn around in form. Something which has been lacking during the previous 6 months.

Notts never looked like replicating the performance of Tuesday night, especially after falling behind after 3 minutes. Don’t let the stats fool you, we were poor, we were second best and we were way off the pace.

The opener was real school boy defending, something that can be forgiven in the 90th minute, but not in the first three! A short corner went completely un-noticed by the slowly reacting Notts defence, and the inevitable happened. An-unchallenged cross into the box was swiftly followed by a un-challenged header into the top right hand corner of Collins’ bulging net. Wonderful start by the Pies.

I missed the header as I was still taking in the fabulous scenery and trying to figure out the starting line-up. Never mind. Onwards and upwards I thought.

Notts never really got going – at all. Most disappointingly was the lack of fight for the second ball. I don’t buy the ‘we had a long trip midweek’ line that I overheard by a few Pies fans on exiting the ground. The players weren’t tired, they’re professional footballers whose sole job role is to play football. I have no sympathy for ‘tired’ footballers. I will note however, that Kevin Nolan didn’t use this as a reason for our defeat on Saturday and took it on the chin and accepted we were poor – which was the most refreshing.

It was never going to be a walk in the park. ‘We don’t get down when we lose – and we don’t get upbeat when we win’ is the philosophy Nolan is trying to grow into his players' mindset. It has been working, hence our form and our position in the form table. However, it must be clear that the effort and performance shown on Saturday falls well below the expectation of Nolan and indeed, the fans.

Notts player ratings at Stevenage (6 as average):

Adam Collin – 5 – Frustrating but can’t be blamed for any of the goals. Very unprotected for all 3. If he has been instructed to slow the play down, then this may explain his constant hesitation to release the ball to the full backs. Don’t think he actually made a save.

Clackstone – 3 – I felt sorry for the lad. He got torn to pieces down his side and should have been replaced by Hewitt after 30 mins with Duffy coming into the middle. Fully expect a shuffle on Saturday.

Hollis – 4 – The best of the back 4 but he shouldn’t be the focal point of our defence. A decent covering centre half but not a leader. Caught way out of position for all 3 goals.

Hewitt – 4 – Godden had him at 6’s and 7’s for all 90 minutes. A better defender against big centre forwards but horribly exposed against the excellent movement of the Stevenage front two.

Bola – 4 – His worst game for us so far. Terrible distribution and looked exhausted at the 60-minute mark. An excellent wing back when we are in our attacking element but will never be a full back. Would be perfect in a 3-5-2 as a LWB.

Milsom – 5 – Missed his partner in crime and was left exposed by the lack of positional sense by Thommo and Grant.

Thompson – 5 – Lots of energy – lots of running – no impact. We missed O Connor terribly today and wouldn’t be surprised to see Tootle or Smith in the middle on Saturday to give us more balance.

Grant – 4 – Is not a ball winning midfielder which is the role he was asked to play today. Can not play in a two-man midfield and needs to be given less responsibility. Perfect for the Alan Judge role.

Yeates – 5 – Probably our best player – but be under no illusion, he was poor. Really tried to make things happen but the complete lack of movement alongside and in front of him made it difficult.

Stead – 4 – Worst performance I’ve seen from Stead. We were under pressure from the first minute and Forte would have been a better option to try and hit the channels. Missed a good chance at 0-1.

Ameobi – 4 – Missed our best two chances and clearly isn’t a goalscorer. Needed pace alongside him today to take the pressure of his hold up play.

A bad day at the office all round. Normal service will be resumed on Saturday... won't it? #12thman #COYP

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I think we should see better against Hartlepool, so I have to say although I was shocked by the three goals - it was more due to believing our players would maintain their upper game (instead of relapsing). I'm not overly concerned by this result. Stevenage are by far one of the luckiest teams in this league, which only highlights how average it is this campaign.

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